The Stars Askew

And here’s the UK front cover, which I think is rather wonderful and the opening bit, for those interested.

Stars Askew

A revolution is a festival of the oppressed. Caeli-Amur was alive with color and energy. Demonstrations coursed along the thoroughfares. Chants reverberated among the buildings. Everyone seemed involved in that carnivalesque atmosphere. In the crisscrossing alleyways, hardy washer-women debated the new world; in the red-brick factories, committees discussed the conflict between the vigilants and the moderates; on street corners, avant-garde theatre acts performed bizarre agitprop. At the university, students held endless parties, breaking into orgies or fisticuffs before returning to their dwindling stocks of flower-liquors and their nasty Yensa fudge. Love affairs were begun; hearts were broken; new ways of living invented. Life itself seemed to have taken on a new intensity, and time itself expanded so that each moment seemed to last forever. And yet, everything was moving at such a pace!

In the grand Opera building’s northern wing, the moderate leader Thom pressed the letter into Kata’s hand, his eyes wild. Barrel-chested, his beard sprouting in all directions, the second-in-command of the moderate faction possessed an artist’s sensibility. He was nowhere more at home than in the Quaedian quarter’s galleries and theatres. Kata had always liked his unrepressed romanticism, and he was popular with the citizens. His strengths were suited to the moment of liberation.
Now, in the Opera, Thom’s passion seemed to have taken a dark turn. His eyes were those of a haunted man. “I was meant to meet Aceline here earlier, but was held up. Take her this letter. Guard it, though.” He turned his head, eyed Kata with a piercing sideways glance. “I must attend to something, something—”

As she slipped the letter into her jacket pocket, Kata felt a cold rush over her skin. Thom often acted extravagantly, but there had been something different about this request, a desperation which she had never noticed before.
Kata had become a go-between for various moderates. She spent most of her days scurrying up along the alleyways, across the white-topped cliffs, from Opera to factory to university. Most importantly, she carried letters between Thom and the moderate leader, the bone-white, childlike Aceline. It was a lowly role which suited her.

Thom grasped her arm, pulled her back. “Be careful.”

“What is it?” asked Kata.

Thom adjusted the considerably sized bag that hung from his shoulder. A shadow crossed his face as he looked at it. “Go.”
Then Kata was on her way, through the corridors, past the stream of people, and out into the square, where Dexion waited for her. The minotaur was like an image from ancient times, standing against that background of the red sun setting over the ocean. For a moment the rays blinded her, and all she saw was a magnificent silhouette: a creature too large to be a man, its bull’s head outlined against a ball of fire. Kata was mesmerized by his explosive energy, the scent of his spiced hide. The inky blackness of his eyes always captivated and frightened her, but occasionally his joyfulness would shine through and she would breathe again.

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